The basic premise of Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu) is pretty simple — a class of “delinquents” are tasked with killing their teacher before graduation. Twist #1: their teacher is a bright yellow, tentacled monstrosity who has blown up part of the moon, and is threatening to do the same to Earth in just a year’s time.
Twist #2: he’s actually a fantastic and loving teacher, able to bring out the best in his students who have been relegated to bottom class by the rest of their elite school, which is hidden away in the mountains. For another take, check out Mitch Jay’s review of Season 1 Part 1 as released by Anime Ltd in the UK.
Teaching class 3-E comes at Koro-sensei’s own request to the government. He will be allowed to teach the students, and in exchange he will both swear to not harm them, and also allow the government the chance to assassinate him before he destroys the Earth. Very mysterious. But as an anime based on a Shonen Jump manga of 169 chapters, don’t expect any big answers to come out of this season.
While Koro-sensei is the main selling point of the anime, the stars of this season are very much the school kids of 3-E. Having an ensemble cast of students isn’t exactly new, but Yūsei Matsui’s Assassination Classroom pulls off the cast of characters in a way few other manga or anime can. While there are some characters that are more important than others, Nagisa is pretty much the main protagonist, every character feels like their own unique person. Even characters that seem on the periphery at first have their own things going on, and that’s not something every classroom anime can do.
The things these characters deal with are very real problems, too. The sorts of issues a lot of kids go through at school. Assassination Classroom isn’t going to shy away from tackling some more difficult issues. The entire idea of having a poorly treated lower class is constantly questioned, for instance, as well as some more personal problems. I’m often saying that the issue with comedy drama is that they’re neither funny nor dramatic, but Assassination Classroom manages to pull off both elements very well consistently. Not only is one of the funniest shows around, but at times it’s also one of the most sincere. Thankfully these troubled children all have Koro-sensei there to look after them, and to help them grow. While they try to kill him, of course.
Koro-sensei is now one of my favourite anime characters, and the Japanese voice actor, Jun Fukuyama is fantastic in the role (you might know him from Blue Exorcist as Yukio Okumura, Code Geass as Lelouch Lamperouge, more recently Joker Game as Jitsui, and a whole heap of others). It’s such a defining take on the character that it can’t help but seem wrong to hear anything else, from the Funimation dub version, to even Kazunari Ninomiya in the live action version.
The kids aren’t the only ones trying to take Koro-sensei down. Other assassins also get involved, some not caring about what other damage they’ll cause in their attempts. Koro-sensei and the students frequently need to balance destructive assassination attempts with the challenges of everyday student life. This first of two seasons focuses quite a bit on the students themselves, leaving quite a bit of mystery around Koro-sensei and his true nature for next time. But it works as a whole. There’s a definite through line from the class we meet at the beginning of the anime to the one we’re left with at the end of the truly fantastic finale.
Lerche has done a fantastic job at translating Matsui’s bold and unique art style into animation. With bright colours and thick outlines it stands out, but is still able to go into some messy detail for action scenes. Koro-sensei’s furious face still gives me chills. The soundtrack has some really great tracks, spanning about as many moods as the anime itself. Most of it is great, but the tense build up of Niramiai and the frantic joy of Koro-sensei wa Yattsukero.
Assassination Classroom has quickly become one of my favourite anime of recent years, and one than I consistently laugh at and makes me feel a little emotional too. It’s a great combination, and with the second season being the last, wrapping up the manga’s story, it’s something that can be easily enjoyed as a chunk of entertainment. This first season is a great start. There’s a reason the manga has been such a sensation recently, and this anime is a great way to experience the story. There’s no doubt in my mind that Assassination Classroom will go down as a true future classic alongside the other Shonen Jump greats.